Looking Beyond the Walls for the Keys to the Castle
It is commonly understood in the world of corporate counsel that technology and streamlined process have become tantamount in importance to the legal services themselves when benchmarking that department’s success. Accepting this maxim, however, does little to prepare or inform legal leaders on how to build, adopt, shop for, or apply the ever evolving components of these tools. A simple Google search reveals countless articles lauding the rise of “legal operations”, and the imperative for acquiring metrics and developing BI. Much of this content is awash in theory and precepts that ignite enthusiasm for innovation, disruption and thought leaders, but neglect to emphasize the need for that hands on specialist who is capable of keeping ship sailing, after the team decides to set on this voyage. Acquiring a well rounded, attentive and diplomatic system administrator is integral to a well run legal ops platform, yet it is frequently assigned as an afterthought, overshadowed by the complexities of the initiative at a more macro level.
This article makes a case for looking outside the company to staff this position to catalyze the change and maintain the project’s success.
“Legal” technology far transcends legal hold, IP docketing, e-billing and matter management platforms.
The first step to achieving a robust business intelligence platform is to recognize the cross functional interdependence of metrics needed to support a forward thinking legal department. Finance, human resources and governance/compliance are examples of groups traditionally outside the legal department’s immediate purview that contribute directly to the legal department’s story. Reliable, meaningful data is built on the concept of “single source of truth,” the “practice of structuring information models and associated data schema such that every data element is stored exactly once.” Unfortunately, this concept is often overlooked by legal leadership, considering new technology initiatives in a vacuum, acquiring a new system and assigning the system administration role as an add on to a existing team member’s job description.
Viewing legal system administration as administrative only, as opposed to embracing it as an overarching opportunity for process change and company wide synchronicity can lead to chaos and unreliable results. More often than not the requisites skills and experience needed to fill the complex role of holistic system administration are found within an outside disruptive force, rather than an expansion of existing institutional knowledge.
Creating a designated system administrative role inhouse can be successful when carefully considered, but the option of outsourcing, even if only temporarily, to get a legal department’s house in order is an often overlooked approach. Several factors might indicate whether outsourcing is the best option for a company that strives to make meaningful changes towards a technologically savvy, analytics driven legal department. Some of these drivers include the following:
Increase in legal staff and attorneys
Increasing volume of matters
Moving significant workload from outside counsel to in house counsel
Desire to improve quality of data and prepare for Business Intelligence platform
Issues with initial configuration/implementation of particular systems that are beginning to surface
Recent organizational changes within the company or legal department
If any of the scenarios described above are front of mind when making personnel decisions regarding legal operations initiatives, moving forward with a third party expert can offer many specific benefits. One simple reason for this is that all the scenarios described put stress on a legal department. Common responses to stress or change (even when planned) are typically reactive and short sighted. One such example is to urgently fill a void to hold things together by either making a quick hire or expanding the job description of a current employee who has neither the band with, confidence, or requisite skills to fulfill it successfully.
Unfortunately, these stop gap measures often evolve into insufficient long term solutions that are void of vision and leave the vast potential of the technology solutions unfulfilled (at best.)
Once a legal department has identified the need for a system administrator and also perhaps that some of these drivers exist, finding the correct person to fill the system administration role is imperative. Again while it may be possible to fill this role internally, the list of attributes the candidate should possesses are often built through experience with multiple clients. A third party consultant, by nature of maintaining continuous experience with various corporate cultures, industries, systems and personalities can often bring a more circumspect viewpoint to troubleshooting and problem solving. While a legal department must be clear in identifying its goals upon initiating this relationship, many departments suffer from the problem of “not knowing what you don’t know.” A person with fresh perspective may not only help achieve these goals, but also assist in refining them and identifying potential new aspirations, even if more long term. Some of the key attributes a system administrator should possess are:
Ability to communicate/collaborate cross functionally (tech, finance. Legal, HR)
Possesses LEDES invoices and ERP experience
Experienced in developing curricula and training
Can implement audit and controls clearly
Drives and defines processes
Report writing and big picture visionary
Flexible/able to move seamlessly across projects
Outsourcing the administration of legal enterprise solutions could be approached in multiple ways depending on needs, resources, goals and sophistication of the legal departments. While a legal department may seek a longer term relationship with a consultant, another very effective approach is to use the consultant as a stepping stone or foundation to finding and training a more permanent replacement.
Consider this metaphor. You would like to custom build a sophisticated airplane and then pilot that plane for various excursions. You would hire a mechanic or engineer to design, build and test the health of the plane based on the criteria and direction provided. Not only would the engineer build the plane, but she would also write an operator’s manual, help hire the pilot and then train that pilot on all the nuances of the vehicle before handing over the keys and preparing the pilot for successful flight. Similarly a consultant could ensure the health of a legal department’s technology, write an arsenal of reports for the department to run, document the work in an “Internal Policies and Procedure” manual then help to identify his/her successor and provide focused training to a new system administrator to take the reins long term.
A short list of benefits this approach can realize for your legal department include:
Increase bandwidth of legal department
Reduce risk and cost
Document goals, process and requirements for consistency
Manage a more effective post-M&A transition
Optimize resources and drive efficiency
Achieve economies of scale
Build systems for sustainability and growth
In short, outsourcing a system administrator role, even if only temporarily, is a savvy move for any legal department striving to innovate and develop a world class legal operations program while minimizing risk and streamlining change management.
About the Author
Beth Lambdin is a legal operations leader who has consulted for myriad corporate legal departments in the disciplines of systems implementation, diagnostics, training and optimization. As a member of the professional services team at Legal Tracker (a Thomson Reuters business) for almost 7 years, she helped Legal Departments achieve their goals through the optimal use of technology, systems and process. She has lead initiatives that reduced legal spend, improved workflow efficiencies, successfully negotiated preferred timekeeper rates and rolled out enterprise software internationally. These successes, achieved in parallel with demonstrating how to effectively collect and display data, have helped her corporate counsel clients showcase their value through cutting edge business intelligence.
Beth earned her JD, from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law with a focus on Intellectual Property, and her BA from Yale University. She is an active volunteer with the Asbury Park Music Foundation, organizer of the Asbury Park Porchfest, live music event , and cofounder of Feed Your Head, a rock n’ roll trivia contest and content provider.